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Haiti president breaks silence after week of violent unrest

Friday, February 15, 2019

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Thursday broke his silence after a week of violent protests demanding his resignation as the US announced it was pulling "non-emergency personnel" from the country over the deadly unrest.

"I will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers," Moise said in a pre-recorded address broadcast on state television, speaking in Creole in the aftermath of clashes between authorities and demonstrators in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Since February 7, at least seven people have died as Haiti has been plunged into political crisis, with everyday life paralysed by protests and barricades in the largest towns.

The protesters, angry about skyrocketing inflation and the alleged theft of nearly US$2 billion in Venezuelan oil relief to the island, are demanding Moise's resignation.

Meanwhile, the United States announced it was removing "non-emergency personnel" from the country on Thursday, the same day that Canada said it was temporarily shuttering its embassy.

"There are currently widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Due to these demonstrations, on February 14, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency US personnel and their family members," it said in a statement.

Canada also said it was closing its embassy in Port-au-Prince on Thursday due to "current volatility," but would "continue to assess the situation in the coming days."

Moise, a 50-year-old former entrepreneur who set up a string of businesses in the north of the country, where he hails from, burst on to the political stage two years ago with a populist message of building up the impoverished Caribbean nation.

His talk was backed up by his business background: past ventures included water treatment, the energy sector and agricultural production, the latter of which earned him his nickname, "Neg Bannan nan" or "The Banana Man" in Creole.

His business interests led him to a meeting in 2014 with the man who would become his political mentor, then- president Michel Martelly, a former singer who had once performed under the stage name Sweet Micky. He too had been a political newbie when he took the presidency in 2011.

But the financing of the plantation, launched in 2014 and bolstered by a US$6 million government loan a year later, has been dogged by questions, which the president's opponents are now using to stoke speculation about corruption.

In a report published last month, a court investigating mismanagement of a major development fund also found that Moise's Agritrans banana firm had been paid to upgrade a road, but that no contract had ever been located by the investigating judges.

Moise campaigned on populist pledges, just like all candidates in Haiti do, but he kept up the rhetoric even after he was elected in February 2017.

Leaving his ministers behind, he criss-crossed the country to whip up support for his "caravan of change," including the purchase of heavy machinery and the launch of major works projects, whose exact costs have never been elaborated, despite repeated calls for clarity in the media.

While traveling the provinces, he also made big promises, such as providing the whole country with round-the-clock electricity.

But with riots and gun fire rocking the capital, Moise gave up big talk and remained conspicuously silent until his Thursday address, in which he rejected the idea of resigning as well as of transferring power to a transitional government.

"We have already seen a series of transitional governments that have resulted in a series of catastrophes and disorder," Moise said.


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